Airships Fill the Sky / Unsimulatable DVD
B+ / B-
e’ve had more than a decade of electronica—an ill-fitting genre of electronic music with little interest in the dance-floor. These bedroom bobbins account for many years of banal knob fiddling as well as the divine—opening a new world of electro-acoustic experiments. To be more precise, we’ve seen a thousand new hermetic worlds, each as self-obsessed as it wants to be. For this fact alone Morgan Packard stands out. He’s shunned bedroom privacy for the collaborative spark in his work with DJ Clever as the d’n’b duo Tundra as well as the dew-drenched Early Morning Migration with Ezekiel Honig. It’s only fitting that Airships Fill the Sky, Packard’s solo debut, comes five years after he began releasing music. By taking the best parts of earlier collaborations, Packard’s debut was worth the wait.
Although the title Airships Fill the Sky might be the stuff of sci-fi dreams, Packard’s album sounds anything but. The cracks and crackles of “I Think I” contain the song’s industrial wheeze and prevent it from straying into a future-fetish. Instead of relying on sepia-tinged clichés like the scratches of old vinyl, Packard infuses these tics with nuggets of found-sound. Like the squeak paired to a well-used hinge, the hum of a broken air-conditioner or the crunch of a gravel-road, these recorded morsels carry a familiar and often forgotten history embedded within their sound. They reverberate with a past, rather than fixating on it.
The song’s flotsam and jetsam also makes sifting through the oceanic compositions on Airships Fill the Sky difficult. “Waterbugs” might be grounded by the ever-present tickle of bass, but the flicker of an overexposed synth is just as crucial to the weave of the song’s melody. Even the title track’s accordion, awash with overtones, expands and contracts with more than a sprinkle of dust (presumably from disuse). You could say that Packard sounds unwilling to let any one instrument steal the spotlight on Airships. While the morose cello could command “Mink Hills” by itself, there’s a sprinkling of wooden percussion, densely knotted and coming undone, which makes the song far more delicate than its taut bow and strings.
The Unsimulatable DVD, an accompanying audio-visual disc with Airships, sounds and looks far less delicate. As Packard’s latest collaboration, with visual artist Joshue Ott, the soundtrack uses little of the interplay that adorns the album. It could be the nature of Ott’s digitally produced images—defined by edges and without an arc in sight. It forces Packard to overwhelm with large warm drones and prickles of static. The fluidity and dynamism of Ott’s textures certainly raises the work beyond computer-generated visualization. Visual compositions explode seemingly by their own volition, not willing to just mimic the audio, and form an interlocking audio-visual symbiosis.
But Ott’s visuals also feel tamed within the DVD format. When taken out of the collaboration’s original live setting, the geometric shapes only serve as sealed-off relic of that experience. Which only makes Airships Fill the Sky sound like that much more of an accomplishment. Best shown in the album highlight “Kelp Sway,” Packard uses a two-note bassline that sounds equally timeless and affixed to this glitched century. Packard engages time and space, instead of sealing himself off from it, and in the process creates a new way to hear our world.
Reviewed by: Nate De Young
Reviewed on: 2007-08-17